Capsule Review: Madden 19

Madden 19 is actually good. Not only compared to last year, but the year before that, and roughly the decade before that. I haven’t played a Madden game since its vaunted 2005 entry (released in 2004) that drove home the incomparable feeling of developing a football team into a juggernaut.

Most of this year’s major improvements are on the field, where improvements in sports games probably ought to go. After moving to EA’s Frostbite engine last year, we knew EA Sports would likely improve upon the sometimes wonky physics issues that surfaced in 18. These improvements are called Real Player Motion, which slows the game down between the tackles considerably.

How is slower better in a football game? It creates much more realistic player to player interactions. Running backs no longer have the ability to exploit higher agility stats to stop on a dime to escape the defense. Cheesing player speed isn’t as useful anymore because physics catches up to you. It also appears that player stamina has been given a minor overhaul, making it much more difficult to string together fancy moves. Each move costs more, so your player runs out of steam faster.

It definitely took me a few games to understand the systems at play in the running game and get used to smarter defenders in the passing game. Ball physics have also vastly improved, creating realistic tip drills in the passing game that are delightfully chaotic without being overblown.

Madden 19 gives you more control over your player celebrations with the flick of the right stick after each big play — touchdown, sack, interception, etc. This can create seamless moments of raw American Gridiron Football energy if you’re prepared with your right thumb, otherwise it’s just a fairly awkward choose-your-own taunt that repeats itself a little too often.

Game commentary in the booth continues to improve since bringing in Brandon Gaudin and Charles Davis a couple years ago. They’re likable and generally pass the podcast test (do I instinctively reach for something else to listen to while playing?), which is exceedingly rare.

Off the field, Franchise mode has received some welcome changes. Coaching schemes actually matter this year, meaning that 93-rated receiver you have your eye on in free agency might be less valuable than a 85-rated receiver who fits your scheme. In terms of roster management, new depth chart slots have been created for slot receivers, power running backs, rushing defensive ends, and more. This change might seem subtle, but it makes your entire roster feel much more dynamic and useful when you see how your players stack up in specialized roles.

There have also been some presentation improvements, but the Madden series has always been chasing the fourteen-year-old shadow of ESPN NFL 2K5’s perfect halftime, post-game, and weekly shows.

Madden Ultimate Team and Longshot return, with the former featuring more ways to play with your specific deck of mishmashed NFL players and the latter being a worse version of last-year’s surprisingly interesting story mode.

Weird problems persist, like the Challenge system that sometimes disables you from challenging what ought to be challengeable. Sometimes players drop passes right after catching a ball, but if they’re out of bounds or in the endzone it still counts as a catch. Little things definitely take you out of the game especially when their real-life counterparts are so overblown every Sunday.

VERDICT

Yes if you like professional American football and have been grumpy about the past 14 years of Madden.

Main takeaway: Drastic improvements on and off the field make a tired game feel good again.